The NFL combine kicks off in Indianapolis today, which means for the next six days, college football’s top prospects will be measured, interviewed, poked and prodded by league talent evaluators trying to give their teams an advantage heading into April’s draft.
What we don’t know right now is whether or not there will be a lockout when the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires next week, and if a lockout happens, what will happen with free agency whenever a new deal is reached. What is known, however, is that there will be a combine this weekend, and that, lockout or not, there will be a draft in April.
And if there is no free agency period prior to the draft, that will change the way teams approach the draft. Rather than sign free agents first, then fill in more needs through the draft, teams would head into the draft with no free-agent signings, making that weekend in April even more important.
So with that in mind, as the Seahawks and 31 other teams try to identify their future stars this week, here is a look at where the Seahawks stand, by position, heading into this week’s combine (positions listed in order of Seattle’s needs).
Even if the Seahawks re-sign Matt Hasselbeck before the draft, they need to find a long-term solution at the game’s most important position. Signing Hasselbeck would give the Seahawks more flexibility to perhaps develop a mid-round player, but even with him in the fold, it would not be at all surprising to see Seattle pick a quarterback in the first round. Quarterback is always a volatile position in the draft, and there could be a run early in the first round, leaving Seattle in a position where none of the top-rated players are available. Or with nearly every QB prospect having some sort of flaw, a player like Washington’s Jake Locker or Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett may very well be available late in the first round.
The top talents — LSU’s Patrick Peterson, Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara — will be long gone by the time the Seahawks pick at 25th, but if they see a potential long-term starter available late in the first round, expect Pete Carroll and John Schneider to seriously consider drafting a corner. Kelly Jennings is a free agent, and Marcus Trufant hasn’t looked the same ever since injuring his back in 2009. Trufant can still be an above average corner if healthy, and Walter Thurmond will contend for a starting job as well, but the Seahawks need to get deeper and more talented here.
Interior offensive line
One could argue that improving the offensive line is the team’s most pressing need ahead of QB or CB. But the fact is that, other than left tackle, offensive linemen don’t go as quickly in the draft as those two positions, and with Russell Okung, that is the one place Seattle is set on the line. We’re not sure how new line coach Tom Cable will evaluate the likes of C Chris Spencer and C/G Max Unger, but it’s safe to say the Seahawks need to get better on the line. Generally teams don’t often use first-round picks on interior linemen, but if there’s a stud guard available, such as Florida’s Mike Pouncey, the Seahawks would have to consider jumping at the chance to improve the line.
Yes Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock were better than expected last year with 20 combined sacks, but elite pass rushers are one of the game’s rarest commodities, and both are coming off of career years at an age where similar production can’t be counted on in the long term. Brock is also a free agent, and while he has expressed his interest in staying, his future may well be unknown when the draft comes around. Red Bryant was much better than expected as the five-technique end, but his injury, and the subsequent struggles of the run defense, showed that Seattle needs depth at the position.
Really we’re just talking about right tackle, because Okung will be this team’s left tackle for years to come. Sean Locklear is a free agent, and may well have played his last game in Seattle. The Seahawks have a few candidates to fill the spot in house, including Stacy Andrews and Breno Giocomini, but if a good right tackle is available, the Seahawks would certainly have to consider grabbing him and having both tackle spots set for a long time.
Brandon Mebane is a free agent, and if Seattle can’t keep him, this position becomes a bigger need. Still, even if he re-signs and the Seahawks keep the starting tandem of Mebane and Colin Cole, they need to add depth up the middle. Both players missed significant time with injuries, and the drop off was noticeable with them out.
Mike Williams established himself as a legitimate play maker, and Ben Obomanu emerged as a surprise starter, but this group could certainly stand to add talent and speed. If Golden Tate can make a leap in year two and figure out how to make his play-making ability translate to game-day, this position group would be in better shape. Another question is when Deon Butler will be back from a broken leg sustained in San Francisco on Dec. 12.
Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett give Carroll the power and change-of-pace combination he liked at USC. Yes, the Seahawks struggled to run the ball last year, but that had more to do with the line than the play of the backs. If anything, the Seahawks could use a mid-to-late-round pick on a running back if they saw a chance to get a true home-run threat.
The free safety spot belongs to Earl Thomas next year and for many years to follow. At strong safety, Kam Chancellor could battle for a starting spot, or 37-year-old Lawyer Milloy may try to come back for another year. Either way, don’t expect Seattle to draft a safety in the early rounds.
Despite a down year, John Carlson still has a future with the team, and Chris Baker is solid in his role as a blocker. Cameron Morrah showed flashes of play-making ability, and Anthony McCoy is someone that Pete Carroll thinks could develop. This is another position where the Seahawks aren’t likely to pick someone unless they see good value in the late rounds.
The Seahawks have a lot of money invested in Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry, and just signed David Hawthorne to an extension after he excelled at a new position. Depending on what happens with Leroy Hill and Will Herring, who are both free agents, Seattle could look to add depth in the later rounds of the draft, but the Seahawks appear to be set on their starting linebackers unless they make some sort of surprise move.